/ Students from the Kansas City Art Institute visiting the new Bloch Building 
Students from the Kansas City Art Institute visiting the new Bloch Building

June 16, 2007

Marc Wilson
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
4525 Oak Street
Kansas City, Missouri 64111-1873

Dear Mr. Wilson,

Last Thursday, June 14, a group of 9 students from the Kansas City Art Institute and I had the pleasure of visiting the contemporary art galleries of the new Bloch building. To celebrate the occasion, we each sported a special head contraption that functions like a horse blinder. This simple device helped us focus on the art collection rather than on the new architecture and design.

At the time of our visit, I had a chance to talk to curator Leesa Fanning and ask her where earthworks, as well as feminist, video, conceptual and performance art were located. She responded, "There are gaps in the collection. Of course, we don't have everything out right now, but it would be great if a benefactor would step up to help us fill those gaps."

No serious collection of modern and contemporary art can skip a whole decade just by accident. Perhaps you could tell me if this gap is politically motivated and, therefore, here to stay.

The course I am currently teaching at the KCAI ("The Undoing and Re-Making of Museums") draws attention to the lack of provisions for contemporary art exhibition spaces in our museums, of which the opening of the new addition to the Nelson is but one example. I am sure you will agree that it is not enough to merely mention "Performance Art, Earth/Site Art, and Electronic Media Art" in a wall text without showing a single example of it. Our head contraptions were not purely designed to focus on the art but also to address the narrow focus taken on by the museum in its curatorial choices.

On an earlier visit on June 5th, during the Artist Community preview reception, I had the privilege of touring the entire new Bloch building, including the executive offices. In your conference room, I spotted the agenda of that day and a supplemental handout, "We've Opened! Now What?" In this document, suggested actions are highlighted: "Plan for major new initiatives to launch in second or third year to renew interest; scan the cultural horizon to determine likely competitors/events that will draw attention away from the museum." This may read like a Pentagon brief to an outsider, but seems fairly straightforward and logical to me. Why wouldn't an art museum that just invested 200 million dollars in its future want to make sure it continues to interest its audience? On the other hand, after scanning through some upcoming topics on the agenda, not least your presentation, "Installation is Marketing," one cannot help but wonder if the museum is in the right hands. Indeed, whose interest is the museum serving when the main focus seems to be on deploying marketing strategies?

You've opened. So what? So where are the diverse and radical 1970's expressions that fall under the heading post-minimalism?

It's hard not to conclude that the Nelson-Atkins Museum is catering to the existing conservative tastes of its patrons and sponsors. To deprive the public from engaging with works and ideas that may illuminate contemporary life and culture is also to relegate culture to pleasantries and jeopardize any real chance to foster a common culture across differences of race, ethnicities, gender, education, and class.


Filip Noterdaeme
Director, Homeless Museum